Garden flowers offer us more than their beautiful colors and smell; many contain healing properties that have been used for thousands of years. As we begin planning our gardens, we reflect on the relationship between the plants to which we tend and our own bodies.
We often conceive of flowers as a dazzling aesthetic addition to our home or garden. We take the time to smell the roses, reveling in their centering scented offerings. Practiced gardeners and hobbyists alike can reap impressive health benefits by way of incorporating medicinal flowers into their gardens. In this way, your garden is both a wondrous green altar, as well as your own personal medicine cabinet.
Trembling with potential energy and encapsulated in a small seed are all the nutrients and structures necessary for the growth of the flower it contains. When provided with the right conditions, a seedling soon flourishes and attracts insects that are beneficial to other plants in a garden. This spring is the perfect time to create a healing ritual around the plants you tend. While you commit to caring for your bountiful blossoms, you can simultaneously tend to the soil that lies within you.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Growth and care: Start with real Calendula officinalis seeds (not one of the many hybrids) in flats or sow directly into the outdoor soil. Enjoying cool temperatures, calendula does well with a layer of mulch which traps moisture for use by this showy flowering annual. It is deer-resistant, non-invasive and the butterflies love it! And by the way, the flowers are edible and will remind you of saffron in both taste and color. They can be used in salads or in cooked dishes.
Medicinal uses: Boasting lasting benefits for oral health, calendula is known to reduce gum inflammation and gingivitis. Teas are soothing to the stomach and can help soothe a sore throat. Calendula flowers are anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, which is why they have been treasured for centuries for soothing rashes and helping mend wounds. I keep small containers of calendula ointment around the house and up at the barn. It works as well for irritations and scrapes on the chickens and horses, as it does on us!
Harvesting: Harvest calendula as soon as flowers are fully blooming. Pick them in the morning hours on bright sunny day and harvest regularly to encourage flowering. You can use the flowers fresh, as mentioned above, or you can dry the flower heads in a warm, shaded place for use in salves, ointments or teas throughout the year.
California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
Growth and care: Native to California, the Golden or California Poppy can be sown directly into the rich soil. Golden poppies prefer full sun and sparse watering. They are annuals in some parts of the country, though our California poppies are perennial here at our ranch. These beautiful flowers are such a beautiful addition to the garden. The flowers are edible and look wonderful in salads.
Medicinal uses: California poppy is one of my favorite herbs for relaxation and relief of minor aches and pains. It is useful anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, and is a life saver for those nights when I have overdone it in the garden. California poppy helps me fall asleep and stay asleep. It can be used to ease muscle cramps and spasms and soothe anxiety in someone who is feeling overwrought and irritable. It combines nicely with passionflower, valerian, and other relaxants.
Harvesting: The entire plant is used as a medicine, so it is best to harvest it when there are both flowers and the long seedpods present. Take a small spade or shovel and dig straight down in a circle about 8-10 inches from the plant and lift up the root and entire plant. Rinse off any dirt from the roots, chop the root, leaves, stem and flowers into small pieces, put in a mason jar and completely cover with vodka. Steep a few weeks covered, strain, and you have your tincture. I generally use 50-80 drops at night before bed or a few times per day for minor pain.
Echinacea AKA Coneflower (Echinacea Angustifolia, E. purpurea)
Growth and care: Echinacea, also known as coneflower, appreciates well-drained soil in full sun or light shade. These perennials are plants of the open woodlands and prairie and send out deep tap roots that allow them to tolerate periods of low rainfall. They flower throughout the summer. You can scatter seed in the fall or propagate from root cuttings. Echinacea is fabulous in the garden; the butterflies and birds love them!
Medicinal uses: Echinacea is celebrated for its ability to ease colds, sore throats, and respiratory tract infections. I have used the tincture for both my family and patients for more than 35 years. As a matter of fact, many patients told me it was the first herbal medicine that they had ever used that made them really believe that “this stuff works.” Topically, Echinacea is used for cuts and minor abrasions.
Harvesting: You can prune the leaves and flower heads throughout the summer to enhance the health of your plant, as well as encourage blooming. Cut the flowering stem above the node or the place where the leaves/stem emerges from the stalk. The leaves and flower heads can be dried or made into a tincture. Wait for at least two years before harvesting the roots. Harvest in late summer. Sink your spade down about 24 inches from the stalk. Go deep and lean back on the spade to lift the root ball. Take the entire plant. You can dry or tincture the leaves and flowers. Trim some of the roots that you are going to use for medicine, leaving some roots with the crown, so that you can replant it in the garden. Washing the roots that you are going to dry with a good scrub brush. Use a sharp knife to cut the roots into small pieces. These can be set aside in a warm but shaded place for a week to dry and then stored, or you can make a tincture from the fresh roots. (Healthy at Home contains all the information you need for making fresh and dried herb tinctures).
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
Growth and care: Hyssop is a popular aromatic perennial member of the mint family that displays beautiful purplish blue flowers (or sometimes pink) and boasts a large root system beneath the earth. This is a great flower to plant in your garden to attract pollinators and prefers well-drained soil and partial or full sunlight.
Medicinal uses: Hyssop possesses antiviral properties and promotes the expulsion of mucus from the respiratory system. The use of hyssop flower tea has long been used to ease colds, coughs, and congestion. The tea is quite pleasant and I have found to be a very good expectorant when taken in small doses throughout the day. When diffused, hyssop essential oil is often used to purify the air indoors. Hyssop leaves can be added to soups and salads.
Harvesting: Cut the flowering tops of hyssop. Harvest and dry the herb at the peak of maturity to assure the highest possible potency of active ingredients.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Growth and care: Lavender enjoys full sun and well-drained, slightly alkaline soil. This gorgeous and fragrant perennial does not like to be overwatered and will not tolerate excessive moisture. While there are many different types of lavender, I admit that I am very partial to English lavender or L. Angustifolia. You can grow from seeds but cuttings are quicker. Lavender makes a beautiful border in the garden but also does great in pots.
Medicinal uses: Lavender flowers are often put in small cotton bags and put in linen and clothing drawers for their wondrous aroma. You can make an infusion and add it to a bath to soothe itchy skin or help relax before bed. Lavender essential oil touts many impressive benefits and can be used as aromatherapy to ease insomnia, headaches, and anxiety. Topically, diluted lavender essential oil can help ease sunburn, bug bites and mend wounds. I put ¼ cup of dried lavender flowers in 1 cup of honey and let it steep for 2-3 weeks. This lavender honey can be used on minor wounds to help them heal. And it serves double duty when drizzled over Manchego cheese and served with some grapes on a warm summer evening. Delicious!
Harvesting: To harvest, cut the stems just above the first set of leaves, as soon as some of the flowers just begin to open. Bundle your stems together (no thicker than the opening on a soda pop bottle), tie with a string and hang upside down in a cool, dry place for 3-4 weeks.